How to Design Historical Home Interiors


Like antique furniture, historical homes can be reduced in value if the integrity of their history and style are ruined by inappropriate updating. Some historical homes are registered and held under legal guidelines that direct or control their renovations. Other historical homes are not protected by law, and homeowners are left to their own design choices. Design differs from decoration in that design includes construction while decoration tends to be centered on applied finishes. A design might involve adding a built-in bookcase to a parlor. A decoration might involve placing decorative objects on the new built-in bookcase. The optimal design of a historical home interior relies on several steps.

Things You'll Need

  • Binder with clips of similarly aged and styled homes One or more historical reference architectural books for the period of your home Collection of any old photographs of your home's interior Tape measure Notepad and pencil Budget Home-inspection results that clearly detail issues with the home Copy of your homeowners' association rules Access to a licensed contractor of excellent reputation who specializes in historical homes.

Design a Historical Home Interior

  • If possible, live in your historical home for at least six months prior to making any renovation decisions. Living in a home will often inform you of specific space usage as well as subtle issues that may not be readily apparent. Develop a renovation budget.

  • Identify important problems with your home such as outdated wiring, plumbing, the use of asbestos or lead, or termite or water damage. Once the exterior of your home is in adequate repair so that no new problems (like leaks) will occur, then you are ready to begin the interior design process.

  • Improve the function of your interior by identifying and detailing in your notebook the function flaws in each room. Since your home is a whole piece, the design of the interior should be seamless from room to room. It should make sense (don't plan to install a bathroom opening into your dining room), be historically appropriate (don't plan to replace a fireplace with a custom television cabinet) and function for the best use of the occupant whenever possible. For instance, doors should not open so that they touch each other or block cabinets, hallways should be at least four feet wide and windows should not look into other rooms. Design shouldn't be a slave to the architecture, but should respect and enhance the character and integrity of the house.

  • Sit down with your books, references, photos and contractor and determine any structural changes that should be made during the renovation of each room. Typically, kitchens, bathrooms and closets are candidates for significant improvements in size and function. A necessary improvement, such as new wiring or plumbing, becomes an opportunity to improve the space in a thoughtful way.

  • Create a schedule if you intend to live in your home during any renovation. Because you have lived in the house, you will realize what is and isn't working. Once you have an idea what needs to take place, you can organize the order of renovations to best accomplish your goals. Many people stage their renovations to accommodate budget and disruption, taking into account school schedules, family events and holidays.

  • Research how other period homes have solved the problems you have found with your home. Architects and historical-home enthusiasts have produced excellent resource books on most architectural styles. These books are full of beautiful, detailed photographs that show how the homes were constructed and finished. A well-designed historical-home interior will look and feel like everything is original, but it will function with fully modern features.

  • Consult with your contractor on how to integrate the changes into the house. Your intention is to create a home where a visitor will be unable to identify what part of the interior has been renovated. Your designed interior should flow well and live well in the present, yet feel rich with history and character. To accomplish this, you must replace all of the essential details that characterize older homes, and you need to remain sensitive to allowing flaws to exist when they add to the feel of a home. A creaking floor is not necessarily a bad thing. Restore all old finishes and install new finishes of the same period and style.

Tips & Warnings

  • Consulting with your local experts (such as people who work at your local historical home association) is an excellent opportunity to locate historical home resources in your area. Building inspectors can become knowledgeable friends invested in your renovation process. Neighbors often know older residents who may have photos of your home. Inspired renovation can create good neighbors as every home around yours will improve in value based on your work and design successes.
  • Renovating and designing interiors for historical homes involves a lot of research and problem-solving. It is also expensive and attracts people who will have advice that you shouldn't follow. Hire well-recommended experts to assist you.

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  • Photo Credit Jimmy_Joe flickr#1189776958
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